Sunday, October 25, 2015

Report on Bouchercon 2015 Convention Part II

 Margaret Maron won the Lifetime Achievement Award 2015

What I liked best overall about Bouchercon was seeing my friends.  I mean two kinds of friends: other mystery writers, still relatively new to publishing like me, though most of us have books out, and the friends I make when I read their books.  I’m their fan, but they feel like my friends because I find common ground with them.

I had planned which panels I’d attend by looking for which ones my friends were on Saturday, October 10.  My first one was on “grit” in a novel, and I love the Lizzie books by Frankie Bailey.  She promises another Lizzie book.  She wrote a future time novel, and has a new book set in 1939 about to be published.  The gist of the panel’s thoughts seemed to be that mysteries with grit were “darker and sexier than most cozies.”  Grit was also pointed out to describe characters with more than usual determination and courage who are willing to face danger.  The other panelists were Lise McClendon, Laura DeSilverio, Maggie King, and Lynn Cahoon.

At ten I went to the Sherlock Holmes panel because I love the books of Laurie King, have read them all, and even used one stand-alone, Folly, in a writing class I taught.  The other panelists also use Holmes as a character in their books.  Les Klinger, Michael Robertson, and Bonnie MacBird were also on the panel.  The fifth panelist, Peter Blau, is the secretary of the Baker St. Irregulars Society.  He publishes a newsletter (Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press).  Mr. Blau told us that a very old film from the 20s, I believe, had been found and would be shown on Oct. 18.  You can learn more on  They were asked why we still care about Sherlock Holmes.  Suggestions were: he himself is a mystery, he’s a superhero of the brain, and Watson is the best friend in literature.  Doyle is a good storyteller.  There’s an element of intrigue in Holmes as a character.  He’s not sexy, but clearly there are things in him under the surface.  He has one purpose: to solve problems.  He’s heelless of the rules.  He goes his own way.  He’s not morally compromised, and his puzzles get solved.  Doyle’s books give us permission to think.  He also has “feminine” intuition.

After lunch–I brought a sandwich–I was eager to go to the 1 P.M. panel with Caroline Todd (the mother author of the duo Charles Todd books).  The panel was “Unfamiliar Territory: Traversing a Dangerous Past.”  Other panelists were Brendan Dubois, Maria Hudgins, James R. Benn, and Aly Monroe.  The Todds go to Britain every year to find the right place to set their novels, and then they read the history of that period, for Bess Crawford novels (the World War I years) and for the Ian Rutledge novels (the years immediately after World War I).  Each year they publish a new book in each series. I’ve read all their series books and always enjoy what they have to say when they appear on panels.  Someone on the panel noted that in researching history, misinformation is found everywhere, and this means lots of cross-checking.

At 2:30 P.M. I went to “You Are What You Read–The Influences in Your Writing.”  I was most interested in what Dorothy Cannell had to say, but also on the panel were R.G. Belsky, Timothy Williams, Susan M. Boyer, and Diane Kelly.  Since I believe that what you’ve read contributes directly to how well you write, I was most interested in Cannell’s having read Lorna Doone and many other classics as she was growing up.  Her father read and guided her reading.  I also read Lorna Doone and many other classics in high school and later in college and graduate school–even back to the Roman and Greek authors.  I still reread Jane Austen every five years, and I’ve read all of Marcel Proust three times.  Reading gives our writing a wide reach with vocabulary, imagery, and even possible content.  I also learned, and still learn, to write mysteries by reading them.

At 4 P.M. I went to Jenny Milchman’s panel on “Escape to Mystery: A Light Touch.”  She was surprised to be chosen to moderate a genre she doesn’t write, but she did beautifully. Jenny has 3 suspense novels out: Cover of Snow, Ruin Falls, and As Night Falls.  She is well known for her months long book tours, taking her husband and two children with her.  Actually she’s read yesterday at 2 P.M. at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, but instead of being there, I’m using time to write about her.  I told her I was still trying to do less in the interest of healing after my traffic accident.

Jenny Milchman

Carolyn Mulford and I had supper at the Twisted Mango.  We were outside, and the Fayetteville Street Mall was full of people, including many families, food trucks, lively music, and sunshine.

At 6 PM we heard Margaret Maron, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award, interviewed by Caroline Todd.  That was a highlight.  I’ve read all Margaret’s books, know how supportive she is of other writers, and she has often supported me.  She told us that the most recent Deborah Knott novel, Long Upon the Land, would be her last in that series.  She talked very openly about her writing career.  She emphasized that there is nothing she can’t say in a mystery novel.  She was influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Josephine Tey, among others.  She had tears in her eyes as we gave her a standing ovation.

I was tired and skipped the Anthony awards ceremony.  You can learn who won all the various prizes given out at this Bouchercon, at  I left the hotel parking garage about 7 P.M. and didn’t get home until 9.  Lost in Raleigh for the third night.  Some streets near the hotel were blocked for a “walk,” and I left Raleigh wrong.  At least I did eventually get home to feed the hens, my dog, and get to bed.

I got up early Sunday to attend Sasscer Hill’s panel at 8:30: “Does the Character’s Profession Shape the Sleuthing?”  Rosemary Harris, and Meredith Cole were the other panelists, and Janet Rudolph had given her moderating to Simon Wood.  Sandra Brannan had to miss.  Sasscer, who is another Guppy friend, whose horse-racing novels I enjoy, has a new series coming out from St. Martin’s.  Her first three were published by Wildside.  Her new heroine, Thea McKee, works for a racing organization that investigates crime within the racing community.  I don’t often ask questions of panelists, but I asked her to tell the others how she persuaded St. Martin’s to publish her new series.  It all depended on whether a certain horse won a certain important race, and he did.  When the editor learned that 22,000,000 million people had watched that race on TV, she decided there was a market for horse-racing novels.

Sasscer Hill

At 10 A.M. I went to Carolyn Mulford’s panel: “Why Are Some ‘Traditional Mysteries’ Comfort Reads?”  Greg Lilly moderated, and Jennifer Kincheloe, Beverly Allen, and Rhys Bowen were also on the panel.  I’m a fan of Rhys’s Molly Murphy books.  Rhys said that these novels provide a safe environment in an increasingly frightening world.  Carolyn added that they give us a community to be part of.  She also said her life experience have been useful to her as a novelist.  Rhys thinks happy endings are important in traditional mysteries.  

There was one more important event: of all the Guests of Honor.  They were: Sarah Shaber, Local Guest of Honor; 2015 David Thompson Special service Award, Bill and Toby Gottfried; Toastmasters: Lori Armstrong and Sean Doolittle; Fan Guests of Honor Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich; International Guest of Honor Allan Guthrie; International Guest of Honor Zoe Sharp; American Guest of Honor Kathy Reichs; American Guest of Honor Tom Franklin; Lifetime Achievement Award Margaret Maron

Then Carolyn and I had a quick lunch at Jimmie’s and headed back to my home in Moncure–separately–but we both made it in forty minutes–my best experience driving home.

Carolyn Mulford

She and I were lazy the rest of the day and took time to learn more about each other’s lives.  

These friends I’ve made, of the people I can lunch with, email with questions or a request for a blurb, are maybe the best riches that come from belonging to Sisters in Crime and going to conventions.  My favorite convention is still Malice, held yearly in May in Bethesda, MD.  I forgot to mention my lunch companions Friday, Gloria Alden, and Donna Crowe, new to Bouchercon and the whole community of crime writers.  She knew nobody but me, but she went to panels she chose, listened, learned, and we occasionally caught up with each other.  Also Gloria’s roommate, Kathleen Rockwood, is a good friend, but we didn’t manage to have a meal together.  It does help to look back and reflect.  1500 folks at once can be overwhelming, but I’m glad I went and saw/heard/ and enjoyed both my mystery-writing friends and my favorite book author friends.


Gloria Alden and her dog Maggie

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